Mother Refuses Cancer Treatment to Save Unborn Daughter

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(Credit: Max Joice via

When Elizabeth Joice found out that she was pregnant, she and her husband, Max, were ecstatic.

A fertility specialist had told her that this would never happen, Max says, because of the chemotherapy Elizabeth underwent to beat sarcoma in 2010.

“It very much felt like a miracle,” he says. “Bringing a child into this world — I mean, it wasn’t just important for me; it was one of the most important things for Liz.”

Then, one month into her pregnancy, Elizabeth’s cancer returned, he says.

Surgeons removed the tumors in her back, but she needed a full-body MRI scan to know whether the cancer had spread. Because an MRI’s contrast dyes may damage a developing fetus, she faced a difficult decision. She could either terminate her pregnancy to undergo the scan or continue with the pregnancy without knowing her true cancer status.

“We felt that if we terminated this pregnancy and did these scans, if it turned out that there was no evidence of this disease after the scans, then we would have possibly given up our only chance at having a child naturally and would have done it for nothing,” Max said.

“It was a calculated risk. We knew there was a possibility of a worst-case scenario, but we also thought there was a good chance that we could have the baby.”

Shortly after becoming pregnant, Elizabeth was introduced to filmmaker Christopher Henze. His upcoming documentary on pregnancy and motherhood will include the Joices’ story.

“It took about three minutes to realize that Liz was a stellar human being, and I wanted her for my movie,” Henze said. “I was impressed by the way she looked at cancer as another problem to be solved.”

Even though a shielded chest X-ray taken in November found no sign of cancer, by January, she was having trouble breathing. Another X-ray revealed tumors in her lungs. Her C-section date was moved up, and on January 23 — six weeks early — Lily Joice was born.

“It was incredibly difficult to want to enjoy this amazing moment as much as you possibly can,” Max said. “Yet to know that you’re facing something so incredibly dire, and the chances didn’t look good at that point.”

After delivery, doctors found cancer in Elizabeth’s heart, abdomen and pelvis.

She died in the hospital on March 9. She was 36.

“In the face of this life-threatening illness,” her husband said, “she was so optimistic and so strong and so willing to go through whatever fight she would have to go through in order to have this baby.”

Henze delivered a eulogy at Elizabeth’s funeral.

“Lots of people say ‘Liz was’; I say ‘Liz is,’ ” Henze said. “Through her spirit and grace, she is still affecting people, and she will through the movie, will continue to impact people. Liz is.”



  • Randy

    What a wonderful woman to give her daughter a chance to live.I know you will tell Liz how blessed she is to have a mom who loved her so much she gave the ultimate sacrifice for her.

  • Jim M

    I think she made the right choice. Her husband has a child to remember his wife by now. If they had terminated to go through with the MRI and it turned out the same with the wife dying they would of lost their chance to have a child also. So now the husband has their beautiful child to raise to keep his wifes memory alive forever. Very bittersweet story..

  • Sue

    Sad and happy at the same time. I am so sad that she did not live to see their baby grow up. At the same time I am happy she did get to hold and see the baby before she passed. Pregnant and having cancer – she made the ultimate sacrifice. What a wonderful lady!

    • Rhonda

      This is a sad story but i feel that liz will be able to see her baby grow because she will always be with her baby in spirit..Her spirit lives and she will look over that baby always..God bless this family..Congrats on your baby…

    • judy lightle

      AMEN just remember your wife is with GOD know she is looking down on the two of you. GOD BLESS BOTH OF YOU!

      • Sue

        I believe that too. She is an Angel now and can see her child from Heaven since she is not on this earth anymore. She knows her husband will take good care of her. I have no doubt her husband and child will feel her presence and know she is with them.

  • Lisa baysdon

    Sometimes they misdiagnosed and I think y’all made the right decision because in this case both could have passed on. God works in different ways. He picked his flower to be taken home and left behind a little seed to grow a new one.

  • Marcia

    Elizabeth was very brave to do what she did and max that had to be very hard to watch all this happen wow what a plan for this wonderful family. My thoughts are with you. God bless

  • Rhonda

    This was a sad story..Liz was very beautiful and strong and gave this the battle of her life only to bring into the world another life..She will be able to see her baby grow up because she will always be with her baby in spirit looking over her baby..God bless this family..Inspirational story..

  • vicki wilkes

    Id really love to know when this movie comes out because this is one movie i would buy no matter the cost for Lizs love for her baby makes this movie priceless. God bless her husband n child forever.

  • Jane

    I have a brother who is 63. when our mother went in to confirm that she was p.g., the doctor said she also had cancer. She tuned 89 yesterday. Cancer while p.g.isn’t always fatile. It is sad when it is. It is a toss of the dice. My mother was also brave, and fortunately she won
    Jane Soder

    • Sue

      Thank you for sharing your family story. It is nice to know both mother and baby can survive sometimes. Your mother was brave also as was Elizabeth. I also believe Elizabeth is watching over her family.

  • kelley

    She lives in the spirit of the child u both made and gave the ultimate but greatest gift to u and urs and nomovie can do justice but will show or pride n what she did ..I think its great …bless u and or baby with all good and happiness ..k

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